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Approaching New Music

From Sight-Reading to Performance

Dr. James Barger
Assistant Professor of Saxophone, West Texas A&M University

jbarger@wtamu.edu • www.james-barger.com

Initial Steps – Do Your Homework!

Research and prepare the score like a conductor

- Historical and biographical information helps us approach the work with an

appropriate historical perspective:

o Who is the composer?

o Where do they fit in the musical timeline?
o What else have they written?
o Who influenced the composer?
o Is there a dedication or commission?

- Terminology – every unfamiliar word used in the score should be looked up and the
definition written into the music. Ignoring those terms that may be unfamiliar is
detrimental to the composer’s wishes and the performance of the music.

- An understanding of the style of the piece will allow for a more convincing and
engaging performance. A composer will oftentimes gives hints at the style through
the use of musical terms, articulation markings, movement or composition titles, and
tempo markings. Style can also be tied to the historical time period of a piece or the
canon of a specific composer.

- Formal structure and phrase structure

o Identify major thematic sections

o Identify key centers
o Where are the starting and ending spots of each phrase – this will aid in
placing breath marks
o Once phrases are identified, appropriate musical expression can be applied
(subtle dynamic markings within phrases, vibrato, etc.)
Initial Sight-Reading Session

- Very Slowly (I aim for half-speed or slower)

- With a Metronome
- With a Drone (possibly)

Create a Practice Plan and Chart

- Identify tricky technical places

- Divide music into logical “chunks”
- Break down tempo into small goals from sight-reading to performance tempo (or
- Charting your progress helps keep you honest and motivated!

Games for Technical Practice

- Mecaniques
- Broken Rhythms (2 notes, 3 notes, 4 notes)
- Fermata Method
- Forward and Backward (5 notes)
- Fast Twitch (Chaining and Back-chaining)
- Tempo Drops
- Wheel of Fortune

Metronome Games for Developing Independent Pulse

- Move the downbeat

- Reduce the downbeat
- Combine the 2 steps above
- Practice with a drum machine